I’ve recently read an article about how some researches are slowly starting to debunk long held assumptions about autism, Autistics, functioning labels, and how the world needs to provide more appropriate education to “all” Autistics.
This is a quote from a researcher (Laurent Mottron): “Early childhood interventions should focus on harnessing strengths, rather than erasing the difference between autistic children and neurotypical kids”
Of course, Actually Autistic people have been saying this forever. We have been warning parents about the damages caused by “therapies” that seek to train Autistics to make us look “indistinguishable from our peers” for a long time.
It took a non-autistic researcher for the media to report this as a “serious” claim, even though we have said and written extensively about it. Every other time that our thoughts on compliance-based therapies were portrayed by the media, it was to spin the false assumption that only a few “high-functioning” Autistics didn’t “need” ABA because they are not “really Autistic”, or to perpetuate the idea that there is a unbridgeable divide between Autistic adults and parents of Autistic kids.
This is not the only part of the article that missed the point.
There is a lot of emphasis on the researcher’s conclusion that Autistics are not intellectually disabled. This is not wrong but it can be misinterpreted. Some Autistics can also have an intellectual disability, and this should not be a reason to deny them the same rights of participation, the same respect.
Note: I don’t really like the term “intellectual disability”. It is an elitist and biased term. I am using it here in relation to the article.
As the article points out, some Autistics are “geniuses”, excelling in areas where “intellect” is highly valued.
Some are creative and think outside the box.
That’s not a surprise either.
The “new discovery”, according to the researcher, is that Autistics considered “low-functioning” (usually also non-speaking) can also learn.
And here is the ableism in display:
Neurotypical researcher now knows that autism and intellectual disability are not intrinsic but we are expected to succeed in some of the areas he claims give us more value, we are expected to “prove” that we are “intelligent”.
If we fail to prove that, we are graded down (another ableist concept), back to the “severe, tantrum-prone and violent” group.
The ones called “a burden on our families”.
Using what the majority defines as “intelligence”, why intellectually disabled Autistics should be left out of inclusive education, supports to develop self-determination, and anything that relates to their/our lives?
Why some of us need to prove anything before deserving respect for our humanity?
This not-so-new discovery is good for Autistics, it might be a way to reach more medical professionals and the majority of educators: the ones so attached to the pathology paradigm, the ones who have, so far, ignored our voices.
But I will not accept that any one of us should prove our worth based on a set of “qualities” as defined by a biased and elitist majority. We all have value, even when the majority cannot see the wisdom behind our voices (spoken or not).
I am not alone either.
The neurotypical researchers, so excited about their not-quite-new discovery have a long way to go before they catch up with us, with our knowledge about how our brains work.